A few weeks ago we witnessed a once-in-a-decade event. That’s right, Sade released a new studio album. Now, I know that (and this) may seem random, but stay with me here.
I never would have guessed at the time that of all the 80s MTV bands of my youth, a 2010 record from Sade would be an event. She wasn’t huge at the time, never at the forefront for me, and I didn’t even start buying her stuff until her third record. Over the years, she has taken her lumps as being a Bed Bath & Beyond-type act (the entirety of JD Considine’s review in Spin magazine of her 1988 record Stronger Than Pride was a mere three words: “Faster than Sominex”). But think about it: who else does exactly what they used to do, and so well? What other memorable 80s act has survived with its style and grace – and audience – intact?
Not R.E.M., they lost me even before Bill Berry’s aneurysm. Sting was boring by the early 90s. Depeche Mode lost me in the 2000s. Ditto Madonna. Duran Duran? Please. Peter Gabriel… don’t get me started. Morrissey has come back better than ever, but his style changed completely in 1992 (plus he had something to come back from). U2 is bigger than ever and filling stadiums, but they don’t do the same thing anymore – their new albums are never flashbacks to The Unforgettable Fire.
But Sade is still making the same album she made in 1986, just with new upgrades every decade. The album has gotten more… sophisticated, but it’s the same album. Sameness is okay only if it’s stellar. And in her case, it’s stellar.
The 2010 album is no disappointment. Very strong. “In Another Time” is breathtaking – the distillation of smoothness, tears, and wisdom, each of which she’s always done so well. The 2010 version of the album is a little more monolithic, a little more down-tempo, but that’s not a problem. She’s not making distinct, self-contained albums anymore, she’s merely adding to the career-spanning playlist. She knows what’s already on your iPod, so those bases are covered. She’s dropping in the songs that aren’t there yet but could have always been there.
Listening to the record is like brushing away the cobwebs and hearing glimpses of the other records – and catching flashes of the you that first heard the other records. Reviews are calling the title track and lead single “Soldier of Love” bold and aggressive, different than anything she’s done before. They are wrong of course – it is merely a continuation of “No Ordinary Love” from her 1992 record. And that last sentence is not a letdown. It is not “different from anything she’s done before” – and that’s good news.
The opening of the next track, “Morning Bird,” also takes you back to 1992, with echoes from “Pearls.” She sounds great, and her voice is only slightly raspier, slightly narrower than it always has been. But then, on the fourth track, the playful, upbeat “Babyfather,” it happens. At 71 seconds in, you hear it, a crystal-clear moment in a dream. You’re not sure exactly how it happens, but you hear it: the Sade of 2010 slips into nothingness and the Sade of her second record Promise is suddenly there, singing. You don’t know how you know it, or how she did it, but it is – it has to be – an undiscovered vocal from 1986 and suddenly here you are, not 2010 you but 1986 you, driving in your dad’s Volkswagen on Fox Hill Road in Hampton, VA with the windows down with the brand-new “Sweetest Taboo” on your radio on your way home from high school working up the courage to ask a girl to the prom. And then suddenly here you are, 2010 you, driving in your Honda past Fox Hills Mall in West L.A. with the brand-new “Babyfather” on your iPod on your way to your kid’s 4th grade classroom to pick him up after school. You are both of these in the same instant.
Now, think about this: Sade of 2010 is old enough to be the mother of 1986 Sade, of the Promise Sade. And you, the 2010 you, you are old enough to be the parent of the 1986 you. Just think about that for a minute.
But you can’t think about any of this because Sade sings and suddenly there is no Honda, no Volkswagen, no Hampton or L.A. And there is no you, no your son, no your dad – there is no difference; these are not distinct, separate people. It’s all the same you, on the same street, hearing the same music. 3,000 miles and 24 years apart, but now it’s the same space in the same moment. Parent and child, baby and father, in the same person, the same song. Tears and wisdom. It is all just one instant, all the same thing smooshed together. It is all the same. Sameness is only good when it’s stellar. And in this case, it’s stellar.
What am I trying to say? It’s this: it is actually still 1986, right now. No, that’s not it – it is that, yes, but there’s more.
It’s really this: Once a decade we need to be reminded – I need to be reminded – that 1986 did not exist. There is only 2010, except there isn’t, because 2010 doesn’t exist either. There is only now. Because time – time itself – does not exist. Time does not exist. There are no distinct years, no distinct “you”s, no distinct Sade records. The same 1986 record is still playing, and the 2010 record has always been playing, and you’re still the same person listening to it. Right now.
There’s just you, and Siddhartha, and the river. And Sade.